Chemical Education in Asia-Pacific


Lo Mun Ling

Department of Curriculum Studies, The University of Hong Kong, Pokfulam Road, Hong Kong

Back to Chemical Education in Ajia Pacific Home Page


In Hong Kong, education is highly valued by most parents, as is expected of the Chinese culture. The basic structure of schooling is that most children attend Kindergartens from the age of 3 to 6. This is followed by 6 years of primary schools and then 7 years of secondary schools which is split into three programmes; junior secondary S1 - S3, senior secondary S4 -S5 and S6 -S7. Nine years of compulsory education was introduced in 1971. Public sector places are free of tuition fees for children between the age of six to fifteen (or up to the completion of Secondary 3, whichever is earlier ). Schools are allowed to charge a small amount of 'Tong Fai' (subscriptions) which may be up to a few hundred dollars per year and varies from school to school. Despite the fact that enough places are available in the public sector, about 10% of students are still studying in fee paying private schools as a result of parental choice. About 85% of students can continue onto upper secondary 4 and 5 in highly subsidized places. At the end of Secondary 5, students have to take the Hong Kong Certificate of Education Examination. About 30% can then continue to Secondary 6 and 7 leading to the Hong Kong Advanced Level Examination. Of these, 24% can go on to public-sector tertiary education courses at degree or sub-degree level.

The official version of the fundamental aim of school education in Hong Kong is to -

"develop the potential of every individual child, so that our students become independent-minded and socially-aware adults, equipped with the knowledge, skills and attitudes which help them to lead a full life as individuals and play a positive role in the life of the community."

(A guide to Education and Training in Hong Kong, Education & Manpower Branch, Government Secretariat, Dec. 1994. )

Top of Page


Chemistry is not a formal component of the primary curriculum. The only topics that may have some components of chemistry in them are "air" and 'water' in the General Studies curriculum which was created in 1985 as an integration of the three existing subjects, social studies, health education and science. For most students, their first contact with chemistry is in the junior secondary curriculum when they study Integrated Science which is an integration of the contents of the three subjects Chemistry, Physics and Biology. The normal practice is to have 4 periods of Integrated Science per five-day-week or 5 periods per six-day-cycle. The Integrated Science curriculum is intended for Secondary 1 to 3. However, in Secondary 3, many schools choose to begin preparing students for the Hong Kong School Certificate Examination, and the science program is split into Biology, Chemistry and Physics, taught by three separate teachers, each taking up two periods.

At Secondary 4 and 5, students may opt for an arts stream or a science stream. Chemistry will not be taken by students studying an arts stream. The basic pattern of subjects followed by a science student in secondary schools is shown in Fig. 1. It can be seen that in the science stream, it is common to have 4 periods of Chemistry per five-day-week or 5 per six-day-cycle.

Prior to 1991, it was common for Secondary 6 students to take The Use of English and three A-level subjects. For the science stream, these may be any three subjects out of the group Pure Mathematics, Applied Mathematics, Chemistry, Physics or Biology. The more able students may take up to 4 A-level subjects. A-level Computer Studies was only introduced in 1991. From 1992, following the recommendation of the Education Commission1 Report No. 2 to broaden the Sixth Form curriculum and to improve communication skills, students in Secondary 6 have to take both English and Chinese and they are encouraged to take a combination of A-level and AS-level subjects. The A-level subjects are for depth while the AS level subjects are for broadening. Schools may offer Advanced level chemistry or AS(Advanced Supplementary) Level chemistry. An AS-level subject is counted as half an A-level subject. The number of periods varies from 8 to 12 for A-level and 5 to 6 for AS-level. Below, I elaborate on the chemistry curriculum at each of the levels of schooling within Hong Kong.


3 or 4 subjects out of the group of subjects:
Applied Maths


One humanities subject or Computer Studies


P.E. (non-examination)





English Language


Chinese Language



Integrated Science


Geog., EPA, History, Chinese Hist./ Social studies


Computer Literacy


Cultural & practical subjects: Music, P.E., D&T, Form Teacher Period










No. of periods per cycle

Fig. 1 A Curriculum map for S1 - S5, Science Stream
(Adopted from Morris, P., (1995), The Hong Kong School Curriculum, Development, Issues and Policies, Hong Kong University Press )

Top of Page


Before 1974, education in Hong Kong was highly selective and only the academically most able students could go on to subsidized secondary schools. At junior secondary level, most schools followed a General Science Curriculum. The teaching method was mainly didactic and expository, students did not have any chance of doing experiments and even teacher demonstrations were extremely rare. With the introduction of free and compulsory education for all up to Secondary 3, the need to cater for a different target population with very different and a wide range of abilities became urgent. The Scottish Integrated Science curriculum was looked upon by the Government as the solution. A pilot project involving 29 schools was set up to try out the curriculum and substantial resources were poured into the project. Training courses for teachers and educators were organized and taught by four tutors from Scotland who had first-hand experience in the formulation and implementation of the Integrated Science curriculum in Scotland. In Sept., 1976, adoption was open to other schools which received support in terms of a recurrent grant for chemicals and equipment, the creation of more technician posts, provision of more laboratories and training courses for teachers and, ETV programmes were produced to support the curriculum. The Hong Kong Association for Science and Mathematics Education (HKASME) also greatly enhanced its adoption by designing and selling home-made equipment and offering training courses. In fact, Integrated Science is one of the few educational innovations that have been successfully institutionalized in Hong Kong and contrasts markedly with the experience with other integrated subjects such as social studies and liberal studies.

The Integrated Science syllabus was divided into 15 sections as shown in Table 1.

An experimental approach was encouraged and the stated objectives of the course was to provide pupils with

1. some knowledge of the empirical world around him (sic)

2. a little of the vocabulary and grammar of science

3. an ability to observe objectively

4. an ability to solve problem situations and think scientifically

5. an awareness of the culture which is science

There has been very little change to the syllabus since its introduction in 1974. The only major change is the addition of two topics: electronics and building materials in the 80's to make the course more relevant to the local context at a time when Hong Kong had a flourishing electronics industry and as a 'concrete jungle'.

Table 1. 15 sections of The Integrated Science syllabus


Subject matter included


Introducing science physics, chemistry & biology


Looking at living things biology


Energy physics, chemistry & biology


What are things made of physics & chemistry


Solvents and solutions chemistry & biology


Cells and reproduction biology


Electricity physics


Some common gases chemistry & biology


Making heat flow physics & biology


Hydrogen, acids and alkalis chemistry


Detecting the environment biology & physics


The Earth and what we get from it chemistry & biology


Support and movement biology & physics


Transport systems in living things biology


Electricity and magnesium physics

During the initial implementation, there was no suitable text books for teachers to follow. The only major printed resource material available was the Heinemann Worksheets adopted for Hong Kong. Consequently, teachers were forced to create their own teaching materials and there were tremendous professional activities during those years leading to professional growth for many science teachers. However, later, efforts turned to the writing of very detailed curriculum guides and the production of ETV to support teaching. This was perhaps well meaning because these provided useful guidance to the novice teacher, however, without further training and professional exchange, new teachers coming onto the scene perceive these curriculum guides as prescriptive.

A small section of the curriculum guide is included here:


C.4 particles mixing and spacing

Expected outcome

Pupils should be able to infer that there are spaces between the particles




Mix equal known volumes of alcohol and water. measure the total volume and compare the result with the sum of the two volumes. When equal volumes of alcohol (ethanol) and water are mixed, the total volume is less than the sum of the two volumes.
Suggest explanation for any difference in the total volume. A possible explanation of this is that both liquids consist of particles and that the particles of one can slip into the spaces between the particles of the other.


Mix equal know volumes of peas and rice. Measure the total volume and compare the result with the sum of the two volumes. This helps to consolidate the idea that there are spaces between the particles.


Text books used by schools in Hong Kong have to go through a vigorous reviewing process by the Curriculum Development Institute. Only text books in the recommended book list can be adopted by schools. Thus, text book writers do not have much freedom with the approaches and choice of materials since the content is already defined by the syllabus and the curriculum guides define in minute details the approaches. As a result, although there are many sets of Integrated Science text books by various publishers, they all look very similar in content and approaches. Most text books are printed on A4 size paper and in full colour. Since the official medium of instruction in most secondary schools is English and yet many students are not proficient enough to learn in this medium, the characteristics of text books are that very simple English is used and many diagrams are used for illustration. The students' text books are kept as simple as possible while most of the details, answers, extension materials, suggestions for treatment of various topics, teaching methodologies, etc. are put into the teachers' guides.

A page of the teachers' edition of a popular Integrated Science text book is included below. The students' text would be identical except that the answers and notes for the teachers would be omitted.

A page of a popular Integrated Science text book

(Page taken from Lo, M.L. et al, (1992), Integrated Science, A New Approach, Book 1A, Teachers’ edition, 3rd edition, Macmillan Publishers (HK) Ltd.)

With a curriculum guide that is set out in such detail and text books which are very close reflections of the curriculum guide, a 'fidelity of use' perspective is encouraged towards implementation. Unfortunately, this is not true in reality. Most science teachers just teach following strictly the text book using a cook-book approach. Whereas before the introduction of Integrated Science, students seldom had any chance to do experiments on their own and they were thrilled at the chance of being able to get hands on experience, now, students are bored with too much experimentation but not knowing why they are doing experiments. The spirit of the enquiry approach is lost. A syllabus revision for Integrated Science is now underway, hoping to revive some of the more worthy goals of science education. Some schools with a large intake of academically low achievers are also trying to develop their own school-based curriculum by tailoring the present curriculum to suit the needs of their own students. The SMILE (Science as a Motivating and Invigorating Learning Experience) project is an attempt to change the teaching and learning of science in Hong Kong schools. This is a project initiated by a group of secondary school teachers and some teaching staff of the Faculty of Education of the University of Hong Kong. At the moment, a few pilot schools are involved. It is hoped that it might gather more momentum later.

Top of Page


Prior to 1985, there was no formal institute responsible for conducting research in curriculum development in Hong Kong. Most curricula were direct copies from overseas. The Integrated Science curriculum for Junior Secondary Education was imported directly from Scotland and the Chemistry syllabus for the School Certificate Examination was just an adaptation of the Nuffield Chemistry Project in the United Kingdom. The Advanced level chemistry syllabus was copied from the General Certificate of Education (GCE) Advanced Level Chemistry Syllabus of the University of London. The situation has improved slightly after the Curriculum Development Council was reconstituted and upgraded in 1992 in response to the Education Commission Report No.4 (1990). The Council is now appointed by the Governor instead of by the Director of Education and it includes parents, employers as well as professional educators. In 1992, a new division, the Curriculum Development Institute was set up in the Education Department.

Of the three science subjects (Physics, Biology and Chemistry), the chemistry curriculum seems to be the more progressive. For example, the Teacher Assessment Scheme for A-level practical chemistry was piloted in 1973-75 and first implemented in 1977 while the TAS for biology is only just implemented and there is still no attempt made for Physics. This scheme places responsibility for the assessment of practical skills which include manipulative skills, skills in planning experiments and the interpretation of data in the hands of teachers. Continuous assessments by teachers are used and teachers are encouraged to integrate theory and practical in their teaching so that a truly enquiry/experimental approach can be possible. The chemistry curriculum was also the first to respond to the Science-Technology-Society movement and this is reflected in the new syllabus for Secondary 4 and 5, implemented in 1993 and examined for the first time in 1995. As can be seen from the synopsis below, although for the most part, a very strong subject discipline orientation is still maintained, an attempt has been made to incorporate in part the STS (Science-Technology-Society ) element with an 'application-first approach'.


Section 1. Fundamentals of matter Section 5. Fossil Fuels
1.1 Elements
1.2 Atoms
(a) Structure of atoms
(b) Mass of atoms
(c) Electronic arrangement of atoms
1.3 The Periodic Table
1.4 Elements and compounds
1.5 Bonding in compounds
(a) Ionic bonding
(b) Covalent bonding
1.6 Ionic and covalent substances
5.1 Fossil fuels
5.2 Distilled fractions from petroleum
5.3 Homologous series. Structural formulae and naming of carbon compounds of not more than four carbon atoms
5.4 Demand for fractions from petroleum as fuels
5.5 Burning of fuels and fire fighting
5.6 Environmental problems associated with the use of fuels
Section 2. Common Metals Section 6. Important Products from Petroleum
2.1 Uses of common metals
2.2 Reactivity of metals
2.3 Corrosion of metals and their protection
2.4 Alloys
6.1 Plastics
6.2 Alkanols
6.3 Detergents
Section 3. Chemical Cells and Electrolysis Section 7. Important Industrial Products
3.1 Simple chemical cells
3.2 Redox reactions
3.3 Other chemical cells
3.4 Electrolysis
7.1 Nitrogenous fertilizers
7.2 Bleach
Section 4. Common Acids and Alkalis Section 8. Chemicals and Health
4.1 Domestic acids and alkalis
4.2 Characteristics of acids
(a) Dilute acids
(b) Concentrated acids
4.3 Concentration of acids
4.4 Characteristics of alkalis
4.5 pH
4.6 Strength of acids and alkalis
4.7 Neutralization
4.8 Simple volumetric work involving acids and alkalis
8.1 Food additives
8.2 Drugs


The syllabus emphasizes social relevance, especially in the areas of environment, energy, industry and health. It is stated that chemistry and society is the unifying theme and suggests that 'teaching goes from society to the conceptual framework rather than from the underlying principles to their applications' and the teaching of skills in problem-solving, enquiry, communication and decision making is emphasized.

Although there is still a very detailed teaching syllabus published by the Curriculum Development Council and is recommended for use in schools by the Education Department, it is not as detailed and prescriptive as was the case with Integrated Science.

A page of a text book is included here. Starting with the idea that one can see the movement of ions because most ions are coloured, students carry out experiments to find out the colour of different ions and to predict their charges. Then the colour of gemstones as a result of the presence of different coloured ions are discussed.

A page of a text book starting with the idea that one can see the movement of coloured ions

(Page taken from Doyle, P & Lo, M.L., (1993), Chemistry Today, Book 1, Longman Group (Far East) Ltd. )

Following the spirit of the syllabus, a small group of chemistry teachers has been involved in the development of school based curriculum modules based on the Science-technology-society approach. Chemistry is introduced within these modules on a 'need to learn' basis. A few interesting modules are described below.

1. Studying the problem of water pollution of a nearby river.

2. Starting with the idea of renovating an old school to celebrate its 80th anniversary, students investigated the use of different building materials and their properties.

3. A school is situated near to a petrol station. Starting with the problem of 'What happens if the petrol station is on fire?", students investigated what is petrol, what happens when petrol burns and this later developed into a study of fire fighting and finally resulted in a proposal for changing the fire drill procedure for the school.

However, this should not give an illusion that the teaching of chemistry is very progressive in Hong Kong. Such teachers only represent a minority. Most chemistry teachers, unfortunately, are still using very traditional expository methods which are in complete contrast to what is advocated in the curriculum guides.

Top of Page

5. The Chemistry Curriculum at Sixth Form Level

In the past, because of the strong competition for tertiary places, there was very great pressure for schools to prepare students in Sixth Form for the A-level examinations. The backwash effect went right through to primary schools. With the expansion of tertiary education, the aim of sixth form education was re-examined and Education Commission Report Number 2 (1986) recommended a number of objectives for sixth form education. These were:

a. to encourage the development of balanced, well-informed individuals;

b. to prepare students for post-secondary and tertiary education;

c. to develop in all students the ability to communicate effectively in both English and Chinese;

d. to prepare students for adult life.

A working group was set up to make recommendations on how to broaden the curriculum for sixth form education. In 1992, following the recommendations of the Report of the Working Group, the content of the A-level chemistry syllabus was trimmed down by 20% to make way for more subjects to be studied in Form Six, e.g. Liberal Studies.

In 1995, a new revised syllabus with a section on chemistry and society was introduced and will be examined for the first time in 1997 and is shown below. More details are included only for topic 14 since topics 1 to 13 are the traditional topics.



1. Atoms, Molecules and Stoichiometry
2. The Electronic Structure of Atoms and the Periodic Table
3. Energetics
4. Bonding and Structure
5. Chemical Kinetics
6. Chemical Equilibria
7. Phase Equilibrium
8. Periodic Properties of the Elements in the Periodic Table
9. The s-Block Elements
10 The p-Block Elements
11 The d-Block Elements
12. Fundamentals of Organic Chemistry
13. Chemistry of the Organic Compounds
14. Chemistry and Society

14.1 Chemistry and the environment
(a) Air pollution
(b) Water pollution
(c) Solid waste
(d) Pollution control in Hong Kong

14.2 Chemistry and food
(a) Principal components of food
(b) Food preservation
(c) Food additives


Prior to 1976, there was only one mode of A-level practical examination. It consisted of two parts, a qualitative analysis and volumetric analysis. However, the practical examination had frequently been criticized because of the backwash effect it caused - teachers separated the teaching of chemistry into a theory part and a practical part. They taught theory through chalk and talk only and drilled students in titrations and identification of compounds during practical lessons. The Teacher Assessment Scheme (TAS) was introduced in 1976 hoping to rectify the situation. Now, two modes of practical examinations are available, It is anticipated that most schools will use the TAS while the practical examination will be reserved for private candidates only.

The Advanced Supplementary Chemistry Syllabus is a new syllabus developed according to the recommendation of the Report of the Working Group on Sixth Form Education to broaden the Sixth Form curriculum. It is intended as a terminal chemistry course for Form six students and consists of 9 sections. The first 8 sections are essentially a trimmed down version of the A-level syllabus covering the areas atomic structure, bonding and structure, energetics, rates of chemical reactions, chemical equilibria, the Periodic table, fundamentals of carbon chemistry, and chemistry of some carbon compounds. Section 9 is a new section added to reflect the aims that students should acquire an awareness of the social, economical, environmental and technological implications of chemistry, and, a readiness in becoming responsible citizens in a changing world. A synopsis of Section 9 is given below:


Section 9 Chemistry and Society

9.1 Chemistry and the Hong Kong industry

9.2 Chemistry and the environment

(a) Impact of modern living on the environment
(b) Air pollution
(c) Water pollution
(d) Pollution control

9.3 Chemistry and agriculture

(a) Adjustment of soil pH
(b) Fertilizers
(c) Agricultural pesticides and associated environmental problems

9.4 Chemistry and food

(a) Food: proteins, carbohydrates, fats and oils
(b) Food preservation
(c) Food additives

9.5 Chemistry and home hygiene

(a) Soaps
(b) Detergents
(c) Shampoos
(d) Toothpastes
(e) Skin creams and lotions
(f) Drain cleaners and oven cleaners
(g) Glass cleansers and abrasive cleansers
(h) Laundry bleaches


Top of Page


A typical school year starts in September and ends in early July. For secondary schools, the school day typically starts around 8.00 a.m. and ends at 3.30 p.m. A teacher normally teaches about 28 - 30 periods per five-day-week, each period is between 35 to 40 minutes. A typical school day consists of 8 periods per day and there is no school on Saturdays.

In a typical school, there are at least four laboratories, one for each of the subjects Chemistry, Physics, Biology and Integrated Science. Some schools may have an extra senior science laboratory. There are normally two laboratory technicians, one to look after two laboratories, and a number of laboratory attendants to help cleaning up. At least half of the chemistry lessons are scheduled in the chemistry laboratory.

A typical class consists of 40 students. Provisions for group work based on 4 students per group can be easily achieved. A variety of teaching strategies, e.g. small group work, discussion, debate, role play, hands on experiments and projects are encouraged. The teaching of communicative skills is emphasized in the curriculum guide of the new syllabuses. the implementation of these goals, however, varies greatly from teacher to teacher. The language used should be English for schools that have opted to be EMI (English medium of instruction) schools. However, very few classrooms use English as the medium of instruction as most teachers use a mixed code, i.e. a mixture of Cantonese (the spoken dialect by most Chinese in Hong Kong) and English. Despite criticisms from educationist on the undesirable effect of using mixed code, schools are reluctant to change to the mother-tongue as medium of instruction because of the perception that the use of English has greater value in terms of future study and employment opportunities. All tests, exam and text books are however, in English. There is a small percentage of schools using Cantonese as the medium of instruction as well as Chinese text books.

Top of Page


In 1995, there were 30,930 candidates sitting for the Certificate of Education Examination out of a total number of 123,945 candidates taking the Exam., i.e. about one in four students at F.5 level take chemistry.

There are 9,078 candidates taking the A-level chemistry examination compared with the total number of 28,787 candidates. About one in three F.7 students take chemistry. The AS-level chemistry course, however, is not as popular, only 537 candidates took the exam. in 1995.

Top of Page


The Hong Kong Examinations Authority is the official body responsible for operating the Hong Kong Certificate of Education Examination and the Hong Kong Advanced Level and Advanced Supplementary Level Examinations. It is a self-funding and non-profit making body. It employs full-time staff, supplemented by a large number of temporary staff at examination times. There are many serving teachers and academics serving in its many sub-committees.

Some examples of examination questions are given below to indicate the depth of treatment and the type of skills tested.

At Certificate of Education level, most examination questions are highly structured.


Example 1: HKCEE, 1995.
The table below gives some information about five metals.


Abundance in the earth's crust (%) Price per Kg ($) Relative resistance of corrosion
(1 = least resistant
4 = most resistant)
Relative strength of metal
( 1 = lowest
3 = highest)


8.1 170 3 1


0.0055 140 3 3


0.0000004 1100000 4 2


5.0 20 1 3


0.007 160 2 2

Although gold has a very low abundance in the earth's crust, gold was discovered by man a long time ago. Why?
Which of the metals in the above table is the most suitable to make pipes for hot water? Explain you answer.
(1) Aluminium does not corrode easily. Why?
(2) Aluminium is a principal material for making aircraft but its strength is relatively low. Suggest how the strength of aluminium can be improved to make it suitable for making aircraft.
(1) Based on the information given in the table, suggest ONE factor that affects the price of a metal.
(2) Suggest ONE other factor (not indicated in the table) that can also affect the price of a metal. (9 marks)


There are, however, questions where candidates have to give paragraph-length answers. 3 out of the marks for each question are awarded for the effective communication of knowledge in chemistry.

Example 2: HKCEE 1995
Describe how large crystals of ammonium sulphate can be prepared from an aqueous solution of ammonia in a school laboratory. ( 9 marks )

Example 3: AS Level Examination, 1995

An example of a structured question:
The ingredients of a brand of apple juice are listed below:
water, cane sugar, concentrated apple juice, sulphur dioxide, citric acid, vitamin C, sodium citrate, flavourings, stabilizer (E466), natural colour (E160).

(i) Sulphur dioxide is added to prevent the browning of the apple juice. Explain the action of sulphur dioxide.
(ii) Suggest ONE OTHER function of sulphur dioxide in the apple juice.
(iii) For humans, the acceptable daily intake (ADI) of sulphur dioxide should not exceed 0.7 mg per kg of body weight. What is the possible menace of excessive intake of sulphur dioxide? (4 marks)
Sodium citrate is added to regulate the acidity of the apple juice. Explain the action of sodium citrate. (2 marks)
Why is cane sugar added to the apple juice? ( 1 mark)

Example 4: AS-Level Examination, 1995.

An example of essay type question:
Marks will be allocated as follows:
chemical knowledge

9 marks

organization and presentation

6 marks

You should use equations, diagrams and examples where appropriate.
The examiners are looking for the ability to analyze, to evaluate, and to express ideas clearly.
Write an essay on the isomerism in organic compounds. (15 marks)

Example 5: A-Level Examination questions 1995

Structured question:

(I) Derive an expression for the molar mass M of an ideal gas, in terms of its density pressure P and absolute temperature T.
(II) At 98.6 kPa and 300 K, the density of a sample of dry air is 1.146 g dm-3. Assuming that dry air contains only nitrogen and oxygen and behaves ideally, calculate the composition of the sample.
(Gas constant, R = 8.31 J K-1 mol-1 ) ( 5 marks )
(I) At 298 K, the solubility product of calcium ethanedioate is 2.3 x 10-9 mol2 dm-6.
Predict, with explanation, whether or not calcium ethanedioate will be precipitated when equal volumes of 2.5 x 10-2 M calcium nitrate(V) and 4.0 x 10 -6 M sodium ethanedioate are mixed together at 298 K.
(ii) Explain why calcium ethanedioate is more soluble in dilute hydrochloric acid than in water. ( 4 marks )

Example 6: A-Level Examination 1995

Essay- type questions:
Marks will be allocated approximately as follows:
chemical knowledge 50%
organization 30%
presentation (including proper use of English) 20%

Equations, suitable diagrams and examples are expected where appropriate.
The examiners are looking for the ability to analyze, to evaluate and to express ideas clearly.
Write an essay on hydrogen bonding. (20 marks )

Top of Page


Tertiary education in Hong Kong has expanded dramatically during the last few years. There was only one University, the University of Hong Kong in 1963, now there are seven universities funded publicly through the University Grants Committee. In 1980, only 2.2 per cent of the 17-20 age group could enter a first-degree programme, now at least 18% of the relevant age group can obtain a university place in Hong Kong and a significant % study overseas.

Of these seven universities, six offer B. Sc. degree programmes in Pure and Applied Chemistry and Biochemistry as well as M. Sc. and Ph. D. programmes in Chemistry, Biochemical Technology and Environmental Science. Degrees awarded by Hong Kong institutions are recognized around the world.

Candidates who submit HKALE results can apply for admission to universities through the Joint University Programmes Admissions System (JUPAS). Others may apply directly to the Universities. JUPAS is a centralized system introduced in 1990 to prevent students holding places in more than one universities. Students can choose up to 20 study programmes in any of the 7 universities. Selection and allocation of places is mainly based on their HKALE results. Their HKCEE results and confidential academic references are also taken into consideration. Students may have to sit for aptitude tests and attend interviews. Each successful applicant receives only one offer, which is the highest in the preference list submitted by them, then their names will be deleted from the list, whether they accept the offer or not.

Top of Page


Non-graduate teachers used to be trained by the four colleges of education under the Education Department. From 1994, the Hong Kong Institute of Education (HKIED) was created from the four colleges, and the Institute of Language in Education which provides in-service language courses. The HKIED's main priorities are to upgrade existing non-degree programmes and to plan the introduction of some degree programmes. After graduation, student teachers are eligible for the registered teacher status. They can become Certificate Masters/Mistress (CM) in either primary or secondary schools. Normally, they can teach up to F.3 in secondary schools. Most Integrated Science lessons in secondary schools are taught by these CM teachers.

The training of Graduate teachers is mainly provided by the Faculty of Education of the University of Hong Kong and the Chinese University of Hong Kong, and recently also by the Baptist College. They offer both full-time as well as part-time Post-graduate Certificate of Education courses. The full-time Post-graduate Certificate in Education courses mainly give pre-service training to graduates. These are one-year-courses and teachers can also specialize in different major subjects. The two-year-part-time Post-graduate Certificate in Education courses are mainly for serving teachers who have not received initial teacher education when they entered the teaching profession. A graduate with a first degree plus a postgraduate teaching qualification will be eligible for a registered teacher status.

Chemistry is only taught by graduates. In Hong Kong, one does not have to be a registered teacher to teach in secondary schools and many graduates are employed as permitted teachers. A permitted teacher is one who has an adequate educational background, but no professional teaching qualification. These teachers may have to teach for two or three years before they are admitted into the part-time Postgraduate Certificate of Education courses because of the competition for places.

Top of Page


After teaching for 5 years, teachers are eligible to attend the refresher training courses (RTC-INSTEP) funded by the Education Department and run by the Faculty of Education of the University of Hong Kong and the Chinese University of Hong Kong. These are 100-hour-courses lasting for about a year. Teachers normally come every alternate Saturdays for about four hours each. They learn about new developments and trends in their major subject as well as new developments and issues in curriculum and teaching, and philosophy of education. They also study skills in the management of departments to help them to perform their duties as heads of departments. There are options to enable in depth studies in areas of particular interest to them, e.g. counselling and guidance, use of the Internet, etc. They are also expected to attend seminars on current educational issues and tutorials. Participants also have to complete an independent study. Completion of the RTC-INSTEP course is a pre-requisite for promotion to Senior Graduate Master/ Mistress. in 1996, about 250 teachers are undergoing these RTC courses, of these about 11 are chemistry teachers.

Informal in-service training is also provided by the Inspectorate, the Curriculum development Institute and the Hong Kong Association for Science and Mathematics Education in the form of workshops and seminars.

Top of Page

12. Chemical Society and Chemical Education

The Hong Kong Chemical Society (HKCS) was formed in 1979. It is a founding member of the Federation of Asian Chemical Societies, and has an exchange agreement with the Guangdong Provincial Chemical Society. Council members include those with industrial, public service, and educational affiliations. The HKCS has always been interested in the promotion of chemical education in Hong Kong. Among other activities, it organized in 1982, a Symposium - Exhibition "Chemistry and Industry". It has also sponsored a series of workshops and lectures/ demonstrations for secondary school teachers jointly with other organizations like the Education Department and the Urban Council, e.g. the "Chemistry in Everyday Life". The Hong Kong Chemistry Olympiad, now in its 7th year, has become an annual event for tertiary institutions. It is jointly organized by the HKCS, the Royal Society of Chemistry, the Hong Kong Association for Science and Mathematics Education and the Education Department to promote chemistry education in Hong Kong. Six Universities in Hong Kong each entered a team of three chemistry students. They were given a title shortly before the Olympiad and they had to give a presentation to a panel of judges in front of an audience. The topics were given out the day before and were based on a common theme.

The Hong Kong Chemistry Olympiad was extended to secondary schools in 1996. Schools joining the Olympiad each entered a team of three secondary 6 or Secondary 7 students. Each team submitted a written report on a project and a video which recorded the experiments being done. The six best entries were selected for oral and video presentation to an audience and a panel of judges. Examples of projects are studies on apple browning, analyzing the sucrose content in soft drinks, investigating whether egg white can be used to remove lead poisoning, determination of chloride ion content in cheese by using Volhard's method, trying to analyze the chloride content in different food stuff and to analyze the nitrogen content in food.

The Hong Kong Association for Science and Mathematics Education (HKASME) has been established in 1966 by a group of dedicated science teachers. Its membership has grown to 800 and includes many enthusiastic science teachers and teacher educators. It sets out to provide leadership in science education for all science teachers in Hong Kong. The major channel of communication was a bulletin which was expanded into a fully-fledged journal. Vol.1, Number 1 of The Hong Kong Science Teachers' Journal was first published in Nov. 1972. The HKASME has done much to promote and support innovations in science teaching. During the initial implementation of the Integrated Science curriculum, the Association took a very active role both in providing in-service training for teachers through seminars and workshops as well as designing and making home-made apparatus and selling these to schools. They also organized workshops on the use of such equipment. At the time when resources in education were limited, the provision of cheap local home-made apparatus contributed much to the adoption of the curriculum. Later, as provision for schools improved, the need for such low cost equipment decreased, also because of the provision of in-service training by the Education Department, the setting up of the INSTEP (In-service teacher education program) in the Universities and the offering of training to teachers by the CDI, the role of the Association becomes less prominent and there is a decrease in membership in recent years. The Association is now in urgent need of finding a new direction of development. However, the HKASME is still active in jointly organizing induction programmes for beginning teachers, and to initiate innovative projects like the 'Science Across the Asian Pacific' with other institutions.

The Royal Society of Chemistry also has representatives in Hong Kong and has been actively involved in promoting chemical education, e.g. in co-organizing the Chemistry Olympiad. Many members of the Society are practicing in Hong Kong in education, industry, commerce and other sectors.

Top of Page


In the existing school curriculum, there is no independent subject in the area of environmental education. At primary level, environmental education is incorporated into the subject General Studies. At secondary level, elements of environmental education are intended to permeate the curriculum through subjects like Economic and Public Affairs, Geography, Social Studies, Integrated Science, Biology, Human Biology, Physics, Chemistry, Religious Education and Liberal Studies. The Guidelines on Environmental Education in Schools were prepared by the Curriculum Development Council in 1992 to help schools to plan and implement environment education. It is intended that 'environmental education should be implemented in a cross-curricular manner, different subjects in the school curricular focus on and explore different aspects of human understanding and experience of the environment, so that students may get a more holistic perspective of the environment.' The ultimate aims of environmental Education for schools in Hong Kong are:

'to promote in pupils a lifelong and forward-looking concern for the environment and to prepare them for making well-informed, justifiable and practical decisions regarding the conservation of environment so as to enable them to live as useful and responsible citizens.'

It is expected that environmental education is also implemented through an informal curriculum by various activities organized within and outside schools. The Community Youth Club of the Education Department, the Environmental Campaign Committee, the Urban Council and Regional Council have organized activities to arouse environmental concern like the annual World Environment Day, the Environmental Protection Festival, and the 'Keep Hong Kong Clean' Campaign. Other voluntary organizations like the Conservancy Association, the Friends of the Earth, Green Power and the World Wide Fund for Nature Hong Kong also do much to promote awareness for environmental protection in Hong Kong.

Top of Page


Although Hong Kong imports about HK$10 billion worth of chemical products every year, there are few large scale chemical plants in Hong Kong. Although graduates may find jobs in large companies like the Hong Kong and China Gas Co. Ltd., Dow Chemical Pacific Ltd., the demand for chemist has not been great. Chemical engineering graduates usually take up sales executive posts in trading firms or distributors of industrial chemical and raw materials. Those with MBAs can apply for positions in marketing, while others can find work in manufacturing. Those with science degrees in Chemistry can apply for jobs in the research and development/technical services or in business development, e.g. banking. New graduates are hired and given on-the-job training. However, the majority of the graduates with science degrees in Chemistry go into teaching.

Top of Page


Chemical education in Hong Kong is undergoing a rapid period of change since the expansion of tertiary education in Hong Kong during the last decade. When university places were highly competitive, the ultimate aim of the chemistry curriculum, for most chemistry teachers, had been to prepare students to get good grades in the HKCEE and AL examinations so that eventually they could make it to the universities. The Second International Science Study (1984-85) showed that "school science education in Hong Kong is elitist, poor for the majority of students, but attaining very high academic standards for the few who study science subjects at the secondary 6 and 7 levels" (Holbrook, 1990). With the expansion of tertiary education, entrance into universities is no longer very competitive, and teachers have to really re-examine the objectives of a chemistry curriculum. Also, in Hong Kong, there is the culture of according a high status to science subjects and schools tend to channel more able students into the science stream. Therefore, even though there really is not a high demand for chemist, there is no lacking of students taking chemistry at secondary or senior secondary level as chemistry is one of the core science subjects. With Hong Kong being one of the important financial centres of the world, it is natural to expect that students may have a better prospect studying economics or computer studies than chemistry. Concern has been expressed by the Dean/ heads of science departments of the universities that there are some indications of a swing from science, however, the impact is not yet felt at the school level. With the expansion of higher education, the consequence is that one would not be able to expect all students to be suitable for an elitist education, unless chemistry is perceived to be interesting, relevant and within their reach, the swing will be inevitable. The syllabus changes in chemistry were aimed at coping with this. However, innovations and new ideas are hard to spread to the mass of practicing teachers. Although teachers coming through the PCED courses of the Faculty of Education of the Universities are well prepared for their new roles, every year only about 40 places are available. Only about 10 chemistry teachers receive refresher training every year, while there are still hundreds of teachers out there who may have been teaching for over 10 years and are totally out of touch with the current trends of chemistry education. Also because of the problem of 1997, many excellent, experienced teachers are immigrating overseas, thus most chemistry teachers are young, fresh graduates without any teacher training at all. Although there are one-off workshops by the Education Departments or CDI on various topics of the syllabus, articles from Newsletters of the Education Department or the HKASME that discuss such issues, as well as other innovations like the 'SMILE' project, the school-based curriculum projects etc., that try to change the practice of teaching and learning in chemistry/science, these seem to be making little impact. Teaching practices in the classrooms are still a long way to go in implementing the stated goals and objectives of the chemistry curriculum in Hong Kong.


CDC, 1992, Guidelines on Environmental Education in Schools, Hong Kong Government Printer.

CDC, 1993, Guide to the Sixth Form Curriculum, Hong Kong Government Printer.

CDC, 1986, Syllabus for Science (Forms I - III), Hong Kong Government Press.

CDC, 1994, Syllabus for General Studies (Primary I - VI), Hong Kong Government Press.

CDC, 1991, Syllabuses for Secondary Schools, Chemistry (Advanced Supplementary Level), Hong Kong Government Press

CDC, 1991, Syllabuses for Secondary Schools, Chemistry (Secondary 4-5)), Hong Kong Government Press

CDC, 1995, Syllabuses for Secondary Schools, Chemistry (Advanced Level), Hong Kong Government Press

Government Secretariat, Education & Manpower Branch, 1994, A guide to Education and Training in Hong Kong, Hong Kong Government Printer.

Holbrook, J.B., (1990), Education Papers 6, Science Education in Hong Kong: Achievements and Determinants, Faculty of Education, University of Hong Kong.

Morris, P.,(1995), The Hong Kong School Curriculum, Development, Issues and Policies, Hong Kong University Press

Hong Kong Education Dept. Science Subjects Section., 1974, Report of first year trial of integrated science project, 1973-74, Hong Kong Government Press.

Hong Kong Education Dept. Science Subjects Section., 1976, Evaluation of second year trial of integrated science project, 1974-1975, Hong Kong Government Press.

Chakraborty, D.P.,(1987), 20th Century Chemistry in Asia, Vol. 1, [Hong Kong, New Zealand and Indian Chapters], G.D. Publisher, Calcutta-700 036.

HKASME, 1972, Hong Kong Science Teachers' Journal, Vol. 1, Number 1.

1 The Education Commission is the highest advisory body on education in Hong Kong. It advises the government on the development of the education system in the light of community needs.

Top of Page

Back to Chemical Education in Ajia Pacific Home Page